Authors: Toby Neal
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
© Toby Neal 2013
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher.
Photo credit: Mike Neal
© JULIE METZ LTD.
Book formatting: Mike Neal © Nealstudios.net
Ebook: ISBN: 978-0-9891489-4-8
Like a city whose walls are broken down is a (wo)man
who lacks self control.
I think I started getting really worried when I found the shoe.
I was done with my last client of the day and had opened the door to leave. There it lay on the jute mat leading into my office—a cream-colored leather heel splotched with mud, all by itself like a question mark. I picked it up and looked around as if its owner might jump out of the red gingers planted beside the building.
The little graveled parking lot was deserted. Not for the first time, I wondered if I should have chosen this remote location with its pretty little restored cottage set back from the University of Hawaii, Hilo campus. It had seemed a good decision—easy access and privacy for clients—but now I wished I’d taken the office space in downtown Hilo I’d been offered.
I set the shoe inside the door against the wall, aligned and pointed outward as if inviting its owner to reclaim it. The golden imitation-leather insole was printed with “Jessica Simpson” in curlicued girly writing. A few blades of grass were stuck to the sole, and mud had made a splash pattern on the sides and up the way-too-tall heel.
She had run in these. I’d stake my psychologist’s license on it. I provide consultation and support services for law enforcement for the state of Hawaii, and maybe it was time to give one of my colleagues over there a call.
Next to the shoe was another find, a child’s blue plastic ball. Beside that, a rhinestone-studded dog collar missing a tag. Each of these items, innocuous in themselves, had turned up on the office porch. Taken together, they were creeping me out. I couldn’t help but remember the ordeal one of my clients, Lei Texeira, had gone through with a stalker. I hate stalkers, narcissistic bastards that they are. I really didn’t want one of my own.
I locked the office door, looked around again, and walked down the wooden steps. The yard guy needed to come. The gingers were getting a little leggy, and the grass, loving the wet Hilo weather, was trying to take over the gravel walkway. I beeped open my car—a cream-colored Mini Cooper, special edition with real red leather seats. Its beautiful design, round retro dials and all, made me a little bit happy every time I got in.
And I needed every little bit of happy I could get these days.
I put my Bluetooth in my ear and called Captain Ohale over at South Hilo Station on his cell as I pulled the car out of my lot and onto the feeder road going past the University of Hawaii campus.
“Hey, Caprice. How ya doing?” Captain Bruce Ohale had a mellow voice, one of those that instinctively lowers the blood pressure—a very good thing in a station chief.
“Hey, Bruce. I’m good, busy. Been doing a lot of interisland trainings and consulting. You?”
“Nothing big. What’s up? We haven’t seen much of you lately.”
I provided counseling to police department staff on the Big Island who either request it (seldom) or have mandated services (also seldom), but I also did training and consultation to all the islands, which kept me busy in addition to my private practice.
“Haven’t had any cases with you folks. And that’s a good thing. No, I’m calling to pick your brain about something.” I got on the road, heading back into
Hilo. I live on the outskirts of Hilo on the Hamakua side, and it’s an easy twenty-minute drive from the office. “I’ve been finding some objects outside my door while I’m in session working with people. Odd objects.”
A long pause. I heard the whoosh of his breath as he exhaled a sigh. I pictured his big square hands pulling a yellow legal pad over, rubbing a ballpoint on the paper, the cell phone almost disappearing into his fleshy brown ear as he tilted his head against his shoulder to hold it in place. I could picture it because I’d seen him do it so often, those tiny steel magnifying glasses teetering on his wide nose.
“That’s not good.”
“I know. I’m having a Lei Texeira flashback.” We had her in common, that extraordinary young officer who’d shaken up the station and continued to make headlines as she barreled after bad guys. Lei was one of my “success stories” and favorite clients, now a colleague as she requested me for consultation on her cases.
“No one’s ever going to forget the campsite rapist case. Changed our community, broke the trust.” He sighed again. I could picture him rubbing his eyes, the wobble of the glasses displaced to his forehead. “We’re still recovering. So I hope like hell this is nothing like that. What kinds of objects are these?”
“Child’s plastic ball. Rhinestone dog collar, no tag. Today a high-heeled shoe. Muddy.”
“Cream, size eight, Jessica Simpson brand. The kind someone might wear to a wedding. No marks on it other than some grass and mud.”
I navigated the downtown Hilo traffic as he wrote down the information. We have some big box stores on the edge of town, standard stop-and-go stuff until Hilo Bay, where things tend to get backed up this time of day. The town is utilitarian rather than pretty—Hilo had grown up around its natural bay as an area of transport and was the functional heart of the Big Island’s commerce, not a big tourist attraction like Kona. Still, it’s Hawaii, and the palm trees and lush ferns are everywhere.
“The shoe bothers me,” I said.
“It all bothers me,” Bruce said. “Any notes, anything threatening?”
“No, or I’d have called you sooner. Nobody around, and the funny thing is, I can usually hear people come up onto the porch of my office building. The items are outside, and I never hear anything.”
“Are you taking precautions?”
“Just the usual.” The usual is that I carry a handgun—a Glock 17—in my purse. I’m quite a good shot, actually. I also have some pretty intense pepper spray with an eight-foot trajectory, and I’ve been through the police academy’s self-defense course.
“Well, how about putting in some sensor lights, maybe consider some video out there. Catch ’em in the act.”
“Bruce. You know what I make, and this divorce . . .” My breath caught. He knew the basics, but that didn’t mean I wanted to talk about it. “The divorce is kind of wiping me out. It’s a whole new financial ball game.”
“I’m sorry.” Regret in his voice. “It’s probably some harmless crazy you’ve worked with bringing you goodies, but just in case, I’m going to open a case for you under harassment-stalking. Is anyone coming to mind who this could be? Former clients, for instance?”
“No. I’ve been racking my brain.” And I had. Truth was, I’d been so busy with the state job, my private practice had shriveled to a handful of clients, a motley mix who’d been with me for a long time and whom I trusted.
“Well, I’ll open this and send a patrol by your office at least once a day for a while. If someone’s watching it, maybe we’ll scare them off. Really, consider more security for the building—and keep me posted.”
“Sure that’s all we can do?”
“Caprice, believe me. If there was more I could do right now, I’d be doing it.” I described the items to him again slowly as he built my case file on the computer.
We said good-bye, and I hit the button on the Bluetooth, feeling a little better that he’d taken my concern seriously—but not better about the whole creepy situation. Well, worrying is a waste of a good imagination. Or so I tell my clients. Arguing with myself about how I was worrying occupied the rest of the drive home.
I pulled into the long driveway bordered by ornamental palms and way too much grass for one woman to keep mowed. The driveway ended in a circular drive around a flagpole, one of my ex-husband’s designs—he’d named the house Hidden Palms.
A flagpole and a house with a name—that should tell you something about the pompous ass I’d married. It was a nice house, though—natural lava-stone foundation, a contemporary design with one room flowing into the next, exotic woods from
Bali. Unfortunately, there was still a mortgage on it, and by saying I’d wanted to stay, I’d been saddled with an upside-down bugger of a payment. Richard had found a way to hide all his money in his law practice, leaving me with my barely comfortable state job income and private practice supplement. Ergo, lots of long hours working.
I slipped off my low Naturalizer sandals and put them on the rack at the door, sliding my feet into fuzzy house slippers.
Hector trotted across the polished, echoing floor to greet me in his loud Siamese, tail crooking from side to side, a question mark changing direction. I tipped up his chin to look into piercing ice-blue eyes in that seal-point face—Hector always makes me a little happy too.
“Hi, buddy,” I said.
“Meeerrrrrrow,” he replied.
I wasn’t going to drink tonight. Bettina had made me aware it was getting a little out of hand.
Bettina had been with us since Chris was a baby. She’d answered an ad for “part-time nanny and light housekeeping,” and she’d been invaluable over the years to two working parents raising a son in a house that was too big for us to even pretend to maintain. Now, when I was alone, and frankly, couldn’t afford her anymore, she still went by the store and bought me the basics and came out once a week to run the vacuum around and chase the cane spiders outside. Bettina didn’t believe in killing anything, even cane spiders.
She’d decided I needed her, and I did.
She’d come yesterday and had waited until I got home. I was taken aback, as I got out of the car, to see a row of six large black plastic bags lining the wide steps up to the double front doors. They bulged with the odd but distinctive shapes of liquor bottles.
“Caprice.” Bettina had her hands on her hips. A short, compact Filipina woman, her graying long hair pulled back in a braid, she put me on notice as she’d always been able to. “Here’s your glass recycling.”
“Hm. Seems like it’s built up a lot in the last year,” I said, echoing her posture, with a frown on my brow as if I had no idea how the bags of bottles had mysteriously multiplied.
“Caprice.” She aimed her small dark brown eyes at me—they’d always reminded me of kalamata olives, such a dark brown I couldn’t see the pupils—and they’d always been able to see into my soul. “This is the last three months. I am not stocking your wet bar anymore, and you can take these to the recycling center yourself.”
“Okay,” I’d said meekly, afraid she was going to tell me I had a drinking problem. Afraid if I heard the words, I’d have to do something about it. I wanted to apologize but couldn’t figure out how to phrase it. She’d stomped back into the house to hang up the denim apron she wore when she cleaned. I trailed after her. “I’ve been going through a rough time, Bettina. It’s hard to be alone out here, without anybody.”
Bettina hung the apron on its special peg in the kitchen, turned back. “I know, and I’m sorry. But that’s a lot of recycling.”
It would never be her style to say anything more direct than that. She came over and hugged me. Her hair brushed my cheek and smelled like ginger. Her round, firm arms felt warm and strong, and I felt those easy tears that were never far from the surface prickle my eyes as I clung to her for a long moment. She set me back, gave my arms a squeeze to make me let go. “I gotta run. See you next week.” She left.
I had to haul the bags of booze bottles out of sight to the back of the house, during which chore I decided to cut back. Tomorrow.
Well, now it was tomorrow and I was supposed to be cutting back. I felt that feeling, more like a hunger than a thirst, something I was always aware of nowadays. It flooded my mouth with saliva and a craving that seemed to originate in my very bones.
I wanted that
drink. I deserved it. I had a stalker to deal with, for God’s sake, in addition to everything else. I sat down where I’d been kneeling on the shiny wood floor, petting Hector and trying to muster resistance.